Malaria, which is caused by species of the parasite genus Plasmodium, remains a major global health problem. A vestigial plastid homologous with the chloroplasts of plants and algae was discovered in malaria and related parasites from the phylum Apicomplexa and has radically changed our view of the evolutionary origins of these disease-causing protists. We now recognize that this large group of parasites had a photosynthetic ancestry and were converted into parasitism early in the evolution of animals. Apicomplexans have probably been parasitizing the animal kingdom for more than 500 million years. The relic plastid persists in most apicomplexans and is an essential component. Perturbation of apicoplast function or inheritance results in parasite death, making the organelle a promising target for chemotherapy. Plastids, including those of malaria parasites, are essentially reduced endosymbiotic bacteria living inside a eukaryotic host. This means that plastids have bacterial-type metabolic pathways and housekeeping processes, all of which are vulnerable to antibacterial compounds. Indeed, many antibacterials kill malaria parasites by blocking essential processes in the plastid. Furthermore, a range of herbicides that target plastid metabolism of undesired plants are also parasiticidal, making them potential new leads for antimalarial drugs. In the present review, we examine the evolutionary origins of the malaria parasite's plastid by endosymbiosis and outline the recent findings on how the organelle imports nuclear-encoded proteins through a set of translocation machineries in the membranes that bound the organelle.

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